In Edmonton – Canada’s fifth biggest city – a world-leading artificial intelligence (AI) R&D cluster is fast emerging in the heart of the city. Its innovation corridor stretches from Northern Alberta Institute of Technology through the downtown core to the University of Alberta.
The city – with a population of just over 1.3 million – has more than C$5.5bn ($4.17bn) in development happening in the downtown area, more than any other major market in North America. This is centred around a new professional sports and entertainment complex.
Edmonton is a hub of AI and machine learning in Canada. Alberta Machine Intelligence, a research institute associated with the University of Alberta, features in the country’s national strategy for this type of research. The university’s computer science department is also internationally recognised.
The university is second in the world for academic papers and research on AI and machine learning, according to CSRanking.org, an international ranking of computer science research institutions.
In 2017, DeepMind, a British company at the forefront of machine learning, chose Edmonton for its first laboratory outside the UK. It wanted to recruit three key researchers from the University of Alberta: Richard Sutton, Patrick Pilarski and Michael Bowling. However, they did not want to leave the city or the teams they had built up at the university, so DeepMind came to Edmonton. The firm now has 15 researchers at its downtown lab.
Furthermore, in 2016, Royal Bank of Canada’s R&D lab, Borealis AI, also decided to establish a lab in Edmonton, dedicated to research in ‘adversarial machine learning’. “Great minds attract great minds,” says Mario Nascimento, professor and chair of the University of Alberta’s department of computing science. “As a global leader in AI research, the university’s many excellent professors and researchers produce leading-edge scientific discoveries and play a vital role in attracting and retaining top AI talent and companies to Edmonton.”
Glen Vanstone, vice-president of Enterprise Edmonton at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), the city’s inward development agency, says: “The city is becoming recognised internationally for the excellence of its research on ‘reinforcement learning’. It is becoming a gravity well for talent and companies in the AI field. Important research in biotechnology and health sciences, and in clean technology and renewables, is also taking place here.”
The city of Edmonton has six major public tertiary institutions, creating a vast talent pool of more than 100,000 students with a significant number of graduates in engineering, machine learning, medical sciences, law and skilled trades. It is home to 1300 companies in the ICT sector, employing about 19,000 people.
In October, EEDC and Epic Realty Partners, a real estate group, agreed to launch an innovation hub in downtown Edmonton. This is expected to be a key entry point and home for technology-enabled start-ups and scale-up companies, and aims to bring together entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, talent and business experts in an environment designed to support the growth of tech start-ups.
“We are solving some of the world’s most important problems right here in Edmonton,” says Cheryll Watson, vice-president of Innovate Edmonton at EEDC. “The innovation hub would increase visibility to the incredible work happening at Startup Edmonton and TEC Edmonton.”
Two major tech conferences will take place in the city in 2019: Blockchain and Technology Symposium in March and SingularityU Canada Summit in April.